A Forum for Emerging Nations
Letter to Sir Bernard Braine, Kt. DL. MP. * 03-07-1991
In the late 1980s the Russian empire imploded and spawned numerous peoples seeking national independence. Their fight for freedom was frequently violent. In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia were making a similar bid for independence from the Yugoslav empire. At the time of writing this letter, violence was already occurring in Yugoslavia and war was inevitable unless the international community intervened. The international community did nothing.
On 2 July 1991, at a conference in the House of Commons, Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia put himself forward as an improbable solution to Yugoslavia's growing problems. He made a thinly veiled offer to become the nation's monarch as the 'kingdom' in question was falling apart. His sponsor in this bid was the delightful Sir Bernard Braine, MP.
This letter to Sir Bernard did not, of course, instantly transform world affairs. But it may perhaps have played a small part in prompting a change of view in Whitehall. A year later, in August 1992, Britain hosted 'The London Conference' a peace conference for all dissenting parties in former Yugoslavia which for the first time allowed representatives of unrecognised, emerging nations to have their views represented alongside those of the major powers.
3 July 1991
Sir Bernard Braine, Kt. DL. MP.,
The House of Commons,
Dear Sir Bernard,
Thank you very much indeed for calling me to question H.R.H. Prince Alexander yesterday evening [at a meeting at the House of Commons] and for your generous comments both then and later.
I am a journalist and editor. I appeared last night in a private capacity to observe [the Crown Prince's bid to reclaim the throne] on behalf of the Slovene community in London.
I have a large circle of young friends from Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia but have no nationalist or partisan view with regard to Yugoslavia or its republics. Like you, I suspect, I only wish that in whatever form may be necessary, these delightful and much abused peoples can somehow live together, or alongside each other, in peace and prosperity.
My question to you and H.R.H. was brief but was based upon the following:
It is amply evident that Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and now Slovenia and Croatia are merely the first in a long queue of peoples who seek (or can be expected to seek) some form of self determination. Regrettably, diplomacy and the mechanisms of international foreign relations permit governments to treat and negotiate only with 'recognised' national governments who have the full accoutrements of embassies, missions and UN representation.
Diplomacy should be the servant of those seeking international co-operation, dialogue and peace. To this end we must make sure that governments can speak to those republics and regions which have no place at present around international conference tables in order that situations such as this in Yugoslavia can be prevented.
A new mechanism is urgently needed. The current system was established in the days of great empires which imposed a diplomatic system upon emerging nations whose borders were defined on maps. We simply cannot afford to ignore the fact that huge areas of the world now dispute those C19th and post-Yalta arrangements.
Does the [British] government agree, therefore, that as a matter of urgency a new internationally recognised mechanism must be instituted so that ethnic and regional dissenters or sub-national republics can discuss their aspirations, grievances or needs in such a way that tension is avoided and the authority of recognised nations is not prejudiced?
Such a mechanism is urgently needed which prevents the distress of conflict and war without alienating the good will of nation states which claim authority over the dissenting parties. Such a mechanism is possible since the British Commonwealth already provides a platform for discussion and resolution of disputes without in any way compromising the activities of the United Nations.
Are we to wait impassively for dozens of 'Slovenias' to occur from Moldova and Armenia in eastern Europe, via the Punjab to the Pacific coast before we recognise that the notion of nations today is one that our grandfathers would have understood when clearly a new notion of nationhood is desperately needed?
Should not London offer a forum for debate so that small peoples can at least be afforded a voice at a conference table instead of waiting for the guns to fire?
I apologise for this dreadful paper - my word-processor is playing games with me. If I can be of any help with regard to the above, I would welcome the opportunity.
(Member of The Chartered Institute of Journalists)
14 Earl's Court Square, London, SW5 9DN.
The author subsequently spent eight years reporting events in the Balkans as a war reporter, until Spring 1999.
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